William Raspberry's column {op-ed, Oct. 14} criticizing a decision by the American Civil Liberties Union to represent gay and bisexual men who have been excluded from the Big Brothers program so misses the point of the case that it belies the columnist's characteristic perspicacity.

At the heart of Mr. Raspberry's defense is the assumption that gay and bisexual men, once they enroll as Big Brothers, would be inclined to abuse their charges. He points to recent convictions of others in the program on molestation charges. But while child abuse is a serious problem in this society, it is important to remember that the offenders are overwhelmingly heterosexual and that the cases he cites are by far the exception to the societal pattern of child abuse. These offenders are most often adults sexually attracted to children -- a condition that often requires psychological help.

Homosexuality and bisexuality, however, are not, as Mr. Raspberry implies, emotional disorders worthy of ostracizing gays from full participation in this society. This nation has made steady progress in the past decade toward ensuring that sexual preference is not the basis for discrimination. With those laws has come an awareness that gay men and women, like all of society, have their share of heroes: doctors and lawyers, teachers and public servants -- in short, people who by their example can demonstrate the best of this generation and be role models for the next.

The Big Brothers Program is a worthy effort to harness such good intentions. And it wounds the program as well as those it excludes by such arbitrary policies banning gays from donating their time and good will to the effort. There are legitimate ways to screen out people who don't belong in the program, but categorically disqualifying a large segment of the population is unfair, illegal and the basis of our lawsuit.

Such prejudice may exist among the less informed. But it is sad to us that Mr. Raspberry, who has before been a persuasive defender of the rights of all Americans, has in this instance succumbed to such myths and prejudice about the gay community.

NAN HUNTER Director, ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project New York